- Cancer Information
- Supporting someone with cancer
- Caring for someone with cancer
- How will you feel as a carer?
- Common reactions
Common reactions of carers
This section describes some of the emotions commonly experienced by carers. There is no right or wrong way to feel. Although everyone is different, many carers find it reassuring to know that their feelings are a normal reaction to the demands of the role.
Learn more about these common reactions of carers:
Fear and anxiety
Cancer treatments and outcomes have greatly improved in recent years, but caring for someone with cancer can still be frightening and overwhelming. It’s natural to worry about the treatment, side effects, test results and the long-term outcome, as well as the impact that the diagnosis will have on your family, work and other responsibilities.
Looking after someone with cancer can be stressful.
Physical symptoms of stress can include:
- trouble sleeping
- tense muscles
- high blood pressure
- upset stomach
- changes in appetite
- heart palpitations
- feeling generally tired and unwell.
Emotional symptoms may include:
- feeling overwhelmed or drained
- being irritable or moody
- feeling agitated
- having racing thoughts
- losing confidence in yourself.
It’s common for carers to say they feel continually out of control or under extreme pressure. If stress is ongoing, it could lead to exhaustion and burnout.
Anger and frustration
Feeling angry or frustrated can happen for many reasons, including:
- having to be the carer and take on extra responsibilities
- navigating a complex and confusing health care system
- believing that family and friends could do more to help
- having short-term and long-term plans disrupted
- a shift in the nature of your relationship
- not sleeping well
- having little or no time for activities you used to enjoy
- dealing with the emotions of the person with cancer
- trying to juggle caring with other family responsibilities or paid work
- feeling that the person you’re caring for does not seem to really appreciate the hard work and sacrifices you’re making.
Guilt is one of the most common emotions that carers experience.
Some carers have said they feel guilty about:
- feeling angry and resentful
- taking a break from caring (or even just wanting to)
- being well, while the person they are caring for is sick
- not being able to make the person better (even though this is unrealistic)
- saying or doing the wrong thing at the wrong time
- having to care for someone they do not really like
- not doing enough or feeling they aren’t doing a perfect job as a carer.
It is easy to become isolated or feel lonely as a carer. You may feel too busy or guilty to socialise or maintain contact with friends and family. People may visit you less often because they think you have too much to do or they don’t know what to say. Or they may not be able to visit because of COVID-19. Some people are uncomfortable being around someone who is ill. Maybe you did a lot of activities with the person who has cancer and you miss this special time.
Even if you have many people to support you, you can still feel alone and isolated. You may feel that no-one quite understands what you are going through. This is a common reaction. Joining a support group may help
Feeling down or sad after someone you love is diagnosed with cancer is common. It’s a natural response to loss and disappointment, and usually lasts a short time without severely affecting your life.
If you have continued feelings of sadness for several weeks, have trouble getting up in the morning, and have lost interest and pleasure in activities you used to enjoy, you may be experiencing depression. Research shows that depression is common among carers.
There are a number of ways to manage depression. Talk to your health care team about your options. Visit Beyond Blue for more information about depression and anxiety.
Loss and grief
Many people associate loss and grief with dying. But feelings of loss and grief can also happen when you are caring for someone diagnosed with cancer. It’s natural to stop enjoying your regular activities or miss activities you can no longer do, such as work, exercise, socialising or volunteering. It is normal to feel grief both for the “normal” you have lost and the need to adjust to a “new normal”.
As a carer, you may feel that your relationship with the person you are caring for has changed. Changes in roles and taking on new responsibilities can cause stress between you and the person you’re caring for. See How relationships can change to learn about ways to manage changes to emotional and physical intimacy.
For more on this, see Emotions and cancer.
You don’t know if you’re making the right decisions at the time, but down the track, you can look back and know that you did what you could.Ross
Dr Alison White, Palliative Medicine Specialist, Royal Perth Hospital, WA; Tracey Bilson, Consumer; Louise Dillon, Consumer; Louise Durham, Nurse Practitioner, Palliative Care Outpatients, Princess Alexandra Hospital, QLD; Katrina Elias, Carers Program, South Western Sydney Local Health District, NSW Health, NSW; Jessica Elliott, Social Worker, Youth Cancer Services, Crown Princess Mary Cancer Centre, Westmead Hospital, NSW; Brendan Myhill, Social Worker and Bereavement Research Officer, Concord Repatriation General Hospital, NSW; Penny Neller, Project Coordinator, National Palliative Care Projects, Australian Centre for Health Law Research, Queensland University of Technology, QLD; Olivia Palac, Acting Assistant Director, Occupational Therapy, Gold Coast University Hospital, QLD; Nicole Rampton, Advanced Occupational Therapist, Cancer Services, Gold Coast University Hospital, QLD; Shirley Roberts, Nurse Consultant, Medical Oncology, Northern Adelaide Cancer Centre, SA; Dr Elysia Thornton-Benko, Specialist General Practitioner, and UNSW Research Fellow, NSW; Kathleen Wilkins, Consumer; Helen Zahra, Carers Program, South Western Sydney Local Health District, NSW Health, NSW.
View the Cancer Council NSW editorial policy.